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How it All Started

​Posted September 2021


It started out simple: I had a story I wanted to tell. The hard part was I wasn’t a writer and didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel. Fortunately, when I started, I didn’t care if it was good. I wasn’t looking to get published. I was simply determined to see if I could do it, tell the tale that was inside my head. It wasn’t intended for anyone but me.


It turned out to be a difficult, exhausting, exhilarating experience. I often compare writing to exercise. It feels best in retrospect, when you’re done and can look back at the accomplishment.


But I did it. Seven months after I started, I had my first clunky, poorly written manuscript. Instead of celebrating and feeling proud, I was irritated. The experience left my head swimming with all sorts of other ideas. And those sort of restless thoughts don’t simply lie idle. They eat at you until you do something with them or they will drive you mad. So I continued to write.


My first published novel, HUSH LITTLE BABY, was my fifth story. It did well, and I naively believed that meant I could hang up my architect’s hat and begin a career as an author.




My second novel, NO ORDINARY LIFE, didn’t do as well. And I was “let go” by my publisher.




So I quit. Who needed it? The misery, the toil, the rejection? I went back to designing buildings, a much more sensible and predictable way to make a living.


It turned out it was not that simple. Sort of like discovering you have a knack for whistling then trying to stop yourself from tooting out songs, I couldn’t turn the storytelling faucet off.


So I wrote. One story. Then another. Then I stumbled on “the one,” that elusive once-in-a-lifetime idea that resonated deeper than anything else I’d done. Ignoring the blaring five-siren alarm in my head warning me that I was about to set my scarred hand back on a red hot burner, I sent the manuscript to my agent.


It was rejected.


“Compelling” as my agent agreed it was, the “political climate” had unfortunately shifted making the story “unpublishable.” I got the news in an email when I was on a backpacking trip with my daughter. My agent said she was horribly disappointed and hoped I had something else to send her.


“Nope. Done. Over it.” I said after reading the email out loud.


My twenty-something daughter, who lacks a sympathy gene when it comes to feeling sorry for people complaining about first-world problems, rolled her eyes and said, “She said to send her something else. Send her the one about the car crash.”


I glared. The story about the car crash had been rejected not only by my previous editor but by dozens of other editors. It was a large part of the reason I’d thrown in the quill.


“I liked that story,” my daughter said.


“You’re the only one.”


She shrugged in the way only an entirely uncynical Gen-Zer can shrug, nonplussed that her opinion was completely contrary to those of editors who had been in the publishing business for years.


Pissed more than inspired, I huffed, “Fine,” and sent the manuscript just to prove her wrong.


That story has since gone on to become an international bestseller that has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.


I often muse how different things would have turned out had my daughter not happened to be with me at that exact moment. Life is funny that way, destiny altered by a shrug.

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